I read this article, The New Humanism, in today’s New York Times. It’s an op-ed piece by columnist David Brooks about how our culture’s predominant way of thinking and viewing the world, through the lens of reason, has led to major policy errors, such as invading Iraq, the financial collapse, futile efforts to improve the educational system.
I’ve come to believe that these failures spring from a single failure: reliance on an overly simplistic view of human nature. We have a prevailing view in our society — not only in the policy world, but in many spheres — that we are divided creatures. Reason, which is trustworthy, is separate from the emotions, which are suspect. Society progresses to the extent that reason can suppress the passions.
Of course, we brain geeks know that it’s the glorification of the left brain at the expense of the right.
Yet while we are trapped within this amputated view of human nature, a richer and deeper view is coming back into view. It is being brought to us by researchers across an array of diverse fields: neuroscience, psychology, sociology, behavioral economics and so on.
This growing, dispersed body of research reminds us of a few key insights. First, the unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind, where many of the most impressive feats of thinking take place. Second, emotion is not opposed to reason; our emotions assign value to things and are the basis of reason. Finally, we are not individuals who form relationships. We are social animals, deeply interpenetrated with one another, who emerge out of relationships.
These points bear repeating:
- Consciousness is tiny in comparison to the unconscious parts of the mind.
- Emotions are the basis of reason.
- We live our entire lives in a web of interdependence with other humans.
Got that? Good. That’s thinking with an integrated brain.
Brooks goes on to write about the difference this makes in what we pay attention to:
When you synthesize this research, you get different perspectives on everything from business to family to politics. You pay less attention to how people analyze the world but more to how they perceive and organize it in their minds. You pay a bit less attention to individual traits and more to the quality of relationships between people.
Then he lists the talents this new paradigm requires and develops:
Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.
Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.
Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.
Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.
Limerence: This isn’t a talent as much as a motivation. The conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, the challenge of a task or the love of God. Some people seem to experience this drive more powerfully than others.
Which of these talents have you developed? Which do you want to develop more deeply?
This article is not about Buddhism or NLP or ecstatic dance, by the way, although given my history, I couldn’t help but make those connections.
It’s about how thousands of researchers in multiple displines are coming up with a new view of what it means to be a human being. Brooks concludes:
It’s beginning to show how the emotional and the rational are intertwined.
I suspect their work will have a giant effect on the culture. It’ll change how we see ourselves. Who knows, it may even someday transform the way our policy makers see the world.
Let’s hope so. Let’s do our parts to make it so.
Okay, people. let’s get to work changing the world! One savasana, one trance, one meditation session, one ecstatic dance, one meta-position, one moment of transcendence at a time.